Greetings – the following is an article I wrote in 2007, but its message is still relevant. I’m open to hearing your thoughts.
It’s only February, but it’s already been an interesting couple of months. Among other things, for the second time this year, I find myself battling the symptoms of cold and flu. While I suppose many people would not find that news-worthy, this is a situation to which I’m quite unaccustomed. Usually when I get sick, it hits me hard for a day or so and pretty much all I can do is sleep and try to drink water or juice to stay hydrated. After that, there’s some lingering congestion or a cough that lasts another day or so, but then it’s over for the rest of the year. So for me, two bouts of illness (each lasting a full week or more) in the span of six weeks is quite unfamiliar, and leaves me wondering if my body might be trying to send me a “deeper” message.
Perhaps because my past bouts of cold or flu have been so predictable, I don’t usually go to the doctor or take medication. But ironically my annual checkup happened to be scheduled the week after my first cold, so I mentioned it to my doctor in case there was anything she thought I should be aware of. Not really expecting a response, I was quite surprised at how quickly she began recommending different medications to address my symptoms – take this for aches, take that for congestion. Part of me knew she just wanted to help me feel better fast, but for me as a holistic practitioner, I’m always surprised when recommendations are given with very little knowledge or attention to the wider context of the patient/client’s life.
For instance, what if my congestion symptoms were actually an allergic or biochemical reaction to all the sugar, dairy, and fatty foods I’d consumed during the holidays? Or what if the aches were simply a result of having been sick in bed for two days? What if my flu-like symptoms overall were actually signaling hormonal or chemical changes going on in my body? None of that could be discovered if the focus was on solely on removing the discomfort of the symptoms; I’d miss the chance to listen to whatever messages my body might be sending me.
Another thing about my checkup appointment: my doctor has been urging me to get a mammogram since my 39th birthday, and this year I finally conceded. I have many reasons why I’ve opted against having this test over the years, but part of me theorized that perhaps I shouldn’t judge something until I’ve actually tried it, and it has been a useful tool to many women in the past. So with as much an open mind as I could manage, I set off to radiology to join ranks with so many women taking that responsibility for their health care.
But as the exam started, I kept hearing thoughts running through my head: “Are you kidding me? Is this for real? People do this every year? There’s no way I’m doing this ever again!”
It wasn’t that the experience was bad – the technician was as understanding as she could be, and while it was uncomfortable it was not excruciatingly painful or shaming. Yet I noticed my mind telling me that I should detach my attention and essence enough from my body to just let the technician move and push and squish and stretch my breasts and belly and shoulders and arms to make for the best picture. But I realized that was just the point: I do not want to detach myself from my body’s experience. I strive for myself (and I encourage my clients) to stay present in the body, to be aware, attuned, and attentive to what’s happening in the body. So it presented me with quite a dilemma: part of me felt “in order to get though this, I need to mentally check out”, but more of me wanted to be present and not check out but wasn’t sure how to process this experience.
I found that I had to allow both of those parts to co-exist for a long time after the appointment in order to understand my process. On the one hand, I kept thinking, “oh I should just stop thinking about it – after all, it’s over now, right? And yea, it was weird and somewhat degrading to have a stranger kind of pawing and handling my body like that, but if I stop thinking about it I’ll stop feeling bad.”
But the truth was I had to honor the part of me that did feel degraded, and did feel like someone was pawing at me, because in honoring those parts of me, I got to let myself see that, no matter what the technician’s best intent may have been, this was my experience and it was valid simply because it was my experience.
As I let those different parts of myself have their say, I came to realize that much of my emotional reaction to the exam was related to touch. As a Somatic Therapist, touch is an essential quality to my healing work, but it can only be healing when accompanied with patience, presence, trust, kindness, respect, and grace. I realized that my body did not feel these qualities in my physical exam from my doctor, in the blood tests, or in the mammogram. Even though each practitioner had wonderful “bedside manners,” I noticed that in my experience, I still felt poked, prodded, pawed, and unseen. I draw that distinction deliberately to emphasize that my experience was not “their fault” — it was no one’s fault — yet it was still valid, and it was important that I acknowledge my experience simply because it was how I truly felt.
Now I know that if (or maybe when 🙂 I have my next mammogram, I’ll know that “checking out” and leaving my body in the hands of a stranger does not give me the experience of feeling touched with kindness and respect. Instead, no matter how the other person is acting, I now know that it’s most important that I treat myself with kindness and respect by staying present in my experience — speaking up for myself, expressing what’s uncomfortable and saying what I need to feel more comfortable, getting my questions answered, and so on. It’s not enough to say “my doctor doesn’t take time for me” — I need to believe that I am valuable enough to deserve feeling well-treated, and respond to my body’s needs appropriately. It may not make my physical examinations any more pleasant per se, but at least I’ll know that I didn’t leave “me” on a stranger’s exam table being poked and pawed and unseen.
Thanks for reading. I welcome your comments. Feel free to contact me directly at AdeleCox@Youniversoul.com